Press Releases

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) continued to seek answers from the National Park Service (NPS) regarding the killing of Fairfax County resident Bijan Ghaisar by U.S. Park Police (USPP) officers in 2017. For over two years, Sen. Warner has sought transparency into the circumstances surrounding the use of deadly force, the FBI’s review of the case, and the handling of the incident by the Department of the Interior.

“I am deeply disappointed in the lack of actual information provided in your letter, especially considering it took over seven months to receive a response to my original correspondence. The response and recent public comments made by the Department of the Interior raise some additional questions that require further clarification,” wrote Sen. Warner. “One specific aspect of NPS and USPP’s handling of the Bijan Ghaisar case that has not been adequately explained is the status of an internal affairs investigation related to the Park Police officers involved in the incident.”

In his letter, Sen. Warner pointed to contradictory comments from USPP regarding the status of an internal affairs investigation into the officers that were involved in the incident. In response, Sen. Warner requested answers to a number of questions regarding the Department of the Interior’s position on such an investigation: 

  1. Is the Park Service and the Park Police relying on written guidance within the USPP Internal Affairs Unit or elsewhere within NPS when claiming it is the position of the agency that it does not pursue internal affairs investigations while criminal investigations are ongoing or could potentially be forthcoming? If such written guidance exists, I request that you provide my office with a copy of this policy. If no such written policy exists, I ask that you provide a fulsome explanation as to how this became the current position of USPP and NPS, including the legal justification for the agency’s position on this matter. 
  1. Are there previous examples where the USPP Internal Affairs Unit has conducted an internal affairs investigation regarding the use of force by Park Police officers while outside civil or criminal investigations were ongoing or potentially forthcoming? If there are such instances, I request that you provide my office with documentation regarding these investigations and an explanation of how they differ from the situation regarding Mr. Ghaisar.
  1. In the updated USPP General Order on Use of Force policy (#3615), a section is included regarding the reporting of use of force incidents. In this section, it states that an officer “shall immediately report all uses of force beyond Cooperative or Contact controls to an immediate supervisor,” and that “[t]he supervisor shall submit a copy of all reports within 24 hours to the Commander, Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), and the appropriate Division Commander through the appropriate chain of command.” It continues, “[t]he Commander, OPR, shall ensure all use of force incidents are properly investigated,” and provides the OPR Commander authority to assign the Internal Affairs Unit to conduct a thorough investigation of an incident if deemed necessary.[1]

    How do these new reporting requirements compare to the guidelines in place at the time of the Bijan Ghaisar incident? The updated guidelines appear to have no qualifications that would prevent the Internal Affairs Unit from conducting an investigation concurrently with any potential civil or criminal investigation associated with an incident pertaining to the use of force by a Park Police officer. Would these reporting requirements spelled out in the updated General Orders on Use of Force be subjected to USPP’s current stated policy that it does not initiate internal affairs investigations if a criminal investigation is possible, even if the OPR Commander determines an incident is worthy of an internal affairs investigation? 
  1. When the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney makes a formal decision of whether or not to bring criminal charges against the two Park Police officers involved in the shooting of Bijan Ghaisar, what is the anticipated timeline for the USPP Internal Affairs Unit to determine if any violations of USPP policy occurred?

In January of 2018, Warner, along with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), pushed the FBI for an update on the status of its investigation into the fatal 2017 shooting. In October of that year, Warner sent a letterto the head of the National Park Service (NPS) regarding the circumstances under which U.S. Park Police officers engaged with Mr. Ghaisar.

In June of 2019, Sen. Warner along with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) decried the opaque and drawn-out nature of the review in letters to both the FBI and NPS. Two months later, the FBI provided a brief response, leaving many questions unanswered. In October, NPS provided a partial response, which prompted a follow-up letter from the Senators seeking more information.

In November 2019, the Senators pledged to seek greater transparency and formally requested an FBI briefing on its investigation into the shooting – shortly after the FBI concluded its lengthy investigation without fully explain its findings, including why the two officers opened fire on Ghaisar. Earlier this year, Sen. Warner voted against the nomination of Katharine MacGregor to be Deputy Secretary of the Interior, and in May, announced that he would place a hold on future Department of the Interior nominees until he receives adequate responses to his questions surrounding the Park Service’s handling of the shooting.

A copy of today’s letter is available here and below.

 

July 24, 2020

The Honorable David Vela

Acting Director

National Park Service

1849 C Street NW

Washington, D.C. 20240 

Dear Acting Director Vela: 

Thank you for the letter, sent June 3, 2020, which aimed to respond to a letter Senator Grassley and I sent to you on November 1, 2019, that raised serious questions regarding the National Park Service’s (NPS) and United States Park Police’s (USPP) handling of the Bijan Ghaisar case. While I appreciate that you responded, I am deeply disappointed in the lack of actual information provided in your letter, especially considering it took over seven months to receive a response to my original correspondence. The response and recent public comments made by the Department of the Interior raise some additional questions that require further clarification.

One specific aspect of NPS and USPP’s handling of the Bijan Ghaisar case that has not been adequately explained is the status of an internal affairs investigation related to the Park Police officers involved in the incident. In response to my question regarding the status of a potential internal affairs investigation, you replied that “the National Park Service (NPS) does not typically comment on the substance or specific aspect of such reviews before they are complete,” and “[w]e can confirm that the Department has begun evaluating next steps in the context of pending cases and possible criminal action by the Fairfax County Prosecutor’s Office.” However, on May 20, 2020, a representative for USPP commented, “no internal affairs investigation of this case will begin until after a decision is made by Fairfax on filing criminal charges.”  While other questions remain surrounding the Department’s handling of Bijan’s shooting, I have a number of specific questions regarding the Department’s position on a potential internal affairs investigation.

1.           Is the Park Service and the Park Police relying on written guidance within the USPP Internal Affairs Unit or elsewhere within NPS when claiming it is the position of the agency that it does not pursue internal affairs investigations while criminal investigations are ongoing or could potentially be forthcoming? If such written guidance exists, I request that you provide my office with a copy of this policy. If no such written policy exists, I ask that you provide a fulsome explanation as to how this became the current position of USPP and NPS, including the legal justification for the agency’s position on this matter.

2.           Are there previous examples where the USPP Internal Affairs Unit has conducted an internal affairs investigation regarding the use of force by Park Police officers while outside civil or criminal investigations were ongoing or potentially forthcoming? If there are such instances, I request that you provide my office with documentation regarding these investigations and an explanation of how they differ from the situation regarding Mr. Ghaisar.

3.           In the updated USPP General Order on Use of Force policy (#3615), a section is included regarding the reporting of use of force incidents. In this section, it states that an officer “shall immediately report all uses of force beyond Cooperative or Contact controls to an immediate supervisor,” and that “[t]he supervisor shall submit a copy of all reports within 24 hours to the Commander, Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), and the appropriate Division Commander through the appropriate chain of command.” It continues, “[t]he Commander, OPR, shall ensure all use of force incidents are properly investigated,” and provides the OPR Commander authority to assign the Internal Affairs Unit to conduct a thorough investigation of an incident if deemed necessary.  

How do these new reporting requirements compare to the guidelines in place at the time of the Bijan Ghaisar incident? The updated guidelines appear to have no qualifications that would prevent the Internal Affairs Unit from conducting an investigation concurrently with any potential civil or criminal investigation associated with an incident pertaining to the use of force by a Park Police officer. Would these reporting requirements spelled out in the updated General Orders on Use of Force be subjected to USPP’s current stated policy that it does not initiate internal affairs investigations if a criminal investigation is possible, even if the OPR Commander determines an incident is worthy of an internal affairs investigation? 

4.           When the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney makes a formal decision of whether or not to bring criminal charges against the two Park Police officers involved in the shooting of Bijan Ghaisar, what is the anticipated timeline for the USPP Internal Affairs Unit to determine if any violations of USPP policy occurred?

Thank you for your attention to the questions outlined above. Should you or your staff have any questions regarding this request, please contact my staff.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

 

###

WASHINGTON – Following a continuous push from U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) to get the life-saving Ashanti Alert system implemented across the country, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), a component within the Department of Justice (DOJ), held a national webinar today to encourage states to integrate the Ashanti Alert within their existing statewide alert systems. Sen. Warner sent a letter to Governors across the country inviting their law enforcement officials to participate in the webinar and learn how they can begin to implement this critical program. During the webinar, the BJA announced they will make $1 million in technical assistance available to facilitate and expedite the development of statewide Ashanti Alert programs. The application process for the federal funding will be available beginning tomorrow, Friday, July 24. 

“Today’s national webinar on the Ashanti Alert system took an important step forward in getting states more information on this life-saving tool,” said Sen. Warner. “The input by Virginia state officials during today’s discussion underscores how this alert system can effectively assist in the search of a missing individual. It’s my hope that states across the country will apply to the pilot program and implement this tool into their existing networks in an effort to save lives and pay tribute to Ashanti, a young Virginian who was taken from her family too soon.”

“On behalf of Ashanti Markaila Billie, ourselves the parents and the entire Billie family, we extend our thanks to Senator Warner and the Department of Justice. Through their diligence and dedication to the Ashanti Alert, we are now seeing the first fruits of our labor in implementation,” said Meltony and Brandy Billie, parents of Ashanti Billie. “Today’s training webinar marks a milestone towards final implementation. We look forward to the continued progress of the Ashanti Alert and its potential to save American lives.”

The Ashanti Alert Law is named after Ashanti Billie – a 19-year-old whose body was discovered in North Carolina, 11 days after she was first reported missing in Norfolk, Va. At the time of Ashanti’s abduction, she was too old for an AMBER Alert and too young for a Silver Alert. Once implemented, the Ashanti Alert would notify the public about missing or endangered adults, ages 18-64, and assist law enforcement in the search by way of a national communications network.

At Sen. Warner’s urging, DOJ has been working with Virginia state officials on the Ashanti Alert implementation, which today gave way to a presentation by Virginia state officials on how the Ashanti Alert system has successfully worked in the Commonwealth. In April 2018, Virginia passed its own legislation to create an Ashanti Alert network and the first alert was issued in July 2018 – three months after it was signed into law by Governor Northam. Since its implementation, Virginia has successfully issued ten Ashanti Alerts in the Commonwealth. 

“Today’s webinar culminates several years of intense labor dedicated to raising the awareness of missing adults between age of 18 and 64 years old in the US and Indigenous territory’s. We are most thankful that the precious life of Ashanti will serve to save many for many years to come,” said Michael J. Muhammad, a representative for the Billie family, who provided background during the webinar on the need to close the gap in the existing missing persons system.  

Sen. Warner, who secured unanimous passage of this national alert system through the Senate on December 6, 2018, has been a leader in the fight to implement the Ashanti Alert nationwide. In August, he reiterated the need for the alert’s swift implementation, following a meeting with Ashanti Alert Coordinator, DOJ Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Katherine Sullivan.

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (D-VA) joined Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden to introduce the Preventing Authoritarian Policing Tactics on America’s Streets Act, which would block the Trump Administration from deploying federal agents as paramilitary forces against Americans. The action comes after a week in which heavily armed federal forces without uniform identification in unmarked vehicles have been grabbing protesters off the street in Portland, Oregon. Those forces have deployed munitions and tear gas against protesters. 

“What we’ve seen in Portland these last two weeks is an outrage and should never be accepted in the U.S.,” the Senators said. “President Trump is using completely unjustified and unconstitutional intimidation tactics against American citizens over the objections of state and local officials. This bill makes it clear that unidentified officers cannot trample on the constitutional rights of peaceful protesters.”

Specifically, the legislation would:

  1. Require individual and agency identification on uniforms of officers and prevent unmarked vehicles from being used in arrests.
  2. Limit federal agents’ crowd control activities to federal property and its immediate vicinity, unless their presence is specifically requested by both the mayor and governor.
  3. Require disclosure on an agency website within 24 hours of deployments specifying the number of personnel and purposes of deployment.
  4. Make arrests in violation of these rules unlawful.

The bill was also introduced as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. Senator Kaine previously introduced a successful NDAA amendment to prevent the use of military funds or personnel against American citizens exercising their First Amendment rights.

The full text of the Senate NDAA amendment can be found here.

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and 44 Senate colleagues in introducing a resolution officially condemning the Trump Administration’s “reckless” effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which provides coverage for millions of Americans. The Senate resolution also demands that the Department of Justice (DOJ) defend existing law in court and halt its efforts to repeal the health care protections for millions – including 133 million Americans with pre-existing conditions— in the middle of a public health emergency.

“The Trump Administration has made it clear that it will not stop its assault on our nation’s health care law until millions of Americans have lost the protections and coverage they desperately need,” said Sen. Warner. “This resolution affirms what we have said for years – that this Administration’s efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act are despicable and put too many vulnerable Virginians at risk. The Department of Justice must immediately put a stop to these efforts and fight to increase access to health care during the largest public health crisis in a generation.” 

“To rip health care away from millions of people during a pandemic would be like dousing a fire with gasoline,” said Kaine. “For the sake of the more than 431,000 Virginians benefiting from Medicaid expansion, more than 3 million Virginians with pre-existing conditions, and all else who rely on the ACA for affordable coverage and consumer protections, I oppose this administration’s latest display of inept cruelty.” 

Last week, the DOJ and a group of Republican Attorneys General submitted a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court urging it to invalidate the ACA and pull the rug out from underneath the millions of Americans with preexisting conditions who depend on the law for health care coverage. This move would take away health care coverage for more than 23 million Americans who receive health care coverage through the ACA marketplaces.

Additionally, if the Supreme Court agrees to overturn the ACA, it could sabotage protections for more than 3 million Virginians living with a preexisting condition such as COVID-19, diabetes, asthma, or cancer, potentially exposing them to annual or lifetime caps, medical underwriting for their insurance coverage, or denials for the care they need. Across the board, the Commonwealth could lose needed federal funds, causing significant job losses and jeopardizing the viability of Virginia’s rural hospitals in the midst of a global health crisis.

The resolution urges DOJ to reverse its position and instead protect the millions of people who rely on the ACA for health care coverage amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has infected more than 2.4 million Americans.

In addition to Sens. Warner, Kaine and Tester, the resolution is also backed by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Doug Jones (D-AL), Tina Smith (D-MN), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tom Carper (D-DE), Dick Blumenthal (D-CT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Gary Peters (D-MI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Angus King (I-ME), Tom Udall (D-NM), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Chris Coons (D-DE), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

In the Senate, Sens. Warner and Kaine have fought for expanded access to health care and have spoken out against the Trump Administration’s attempts to overturn the ACA. Last year, Sen. Warner led and Sen. Kaine joined a legislative maneuver to protect health coverage for Americans with preexisting conditions. The Senators have also demanded that the Trump Administration stop the health care sabotage that has undermined our preparedness and ability to respond to COVID-19. Recently, Sen. Warner penned an op-ed sounding the alarm of the devastating effects the health and economic crisis caused by COVID-19 has had on record high uninsured rates across the country.  

The full text of the resolution is available here.

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led all Democrats on the Senate Rules Committee in calling for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the National Association of State Election Directors, and the National Association of Secretaries of State to work proactively to counter any attempts to suppress vulnerable and historically-disenfranchised voters during the COVID-19 crisis.

In letters to Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Dreiband, head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, and to the presidents of the National Association of State Election Directors and the National Association of Secretaries of State, the Senators affirmed that no American should have to choose between their franchise and their health, and stressed the importance of ensuring that any public health measures do not discourage voter participation or limit access to the polls for vulnerable groups, including communities of color and people with disabilities. To best ensure the safety of voters, the Senators encouraged the adoption of convenience voting measures such as vote-by-mail and curbside voting.

“While precincts nationwide can and should actively encourage measures like the use of PPE, substantial sanitation and social distancing in-line with recommendations from the CDC, reasonable modifications must be made to ensure equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities,” wrote the Senators. “For example, persons with autism are often unable to wear a mask for any extended period. In cases like this, it is critical that guidance interpreting the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act be issued to clarify that reasonable modifications must be made to ensure that social distancing measures do not serve as a barrier to the polls for individuals with disabilities.”

“The risk that novel procedures may deter voters is further complicated by the disturbing racial disparities in Coronavirus cases. In almost every state, evidence suggests that African Americans have been disproportionately affected by the virus,” they continued. “Communities of color have frequently faced active efforts to inhibit their franchise – unfortunately, it is likely that there are those who will attempt to use COVID-19 safety procedures as a pretext to suppress voters and undermine the political voice of these communities. We must proactively take steps to safeguard these communities and other vulnerable groups from voter suppression and intimidation.”

In their letters, the Senators noted the increased vulnerabilities facing the 2020 general election in light of the COVID-19 crisis. They highlighted delays and dangerous voting conditions reported in places like Wisconsin, where an in-person election with inadequate procedures resulted in at least 50 cases of COVID-19 during the spring primary season.

The Senators also issued a series of recommendations to prevent voter suppression. These include announcing any safety procedures months ahead of the November election, communicating voting and safety procedures in a variety of languages and formats, issuing strong privacy and security testing months ahead of the deployment of any screening tools, evaluating policies for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, ensuring that any polling places with accessibility problems are made accessible and that reasonable modifications are made to meet the needs of voters with disabilities, training poll workers on how to operate accessible voting machines and on how to interact with voters with disabilities, providing the opportunity for voters with a suspected illness to cast their ballots swiftly and securely, and conducting meaningful engagement with community leaders when determining the impact of any measures on historically disenfranchised communities.

In addition to Sen. Warner, the letters were signed by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Angus King (I-ME), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tom Udall (D-NM), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). 

A copy of the letter to the National Association of State Election Directors and the National Association of Secretaries of State is available here.

A copy of the letter to the DOJ Assistant Attorney General is available here

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) and 19 Senate Democrats in requesting that Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz open an investigation into the conduct of Attorney General William Barr and the Department of Justice in directing the use of force against peaceful protestors around Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020. 

The Senators also called on the Inspector General to probe the deployment of federal law enforcement to suppress protests and intimidate protestors across the country and the temporary expansion of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s authority to “conduct covert surveillance” on Americans participating in protests.

“We write to request an immediate investigation into Attorney General William Barr’s and the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) roles in directing the use of force – including the use of tear gas or a similar gas, rubber bullets, pepper balls, and batons – to suppress peaceful protesters around Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., on June 1, 2020,” the Senators wrote. “This misuse of force is all the more alarming given that the Attorney General appears to have issued this order to allow President Trump to walk across the street from the White House for a political photo-op in front of St. John’s Church. Notably, Attorney General Barr was not only on the scene less than an hour before the use of force to clear peaceful protesters, but he also participated in President Trump’s photo op, posing for pictures in front of the church.” 

The Senators continued: “We believe that the concerning actions we have identified warrant immediate investigation by your office, as they raise serious questions about misconduct, abuse of power, and waste by the Justice Department. Moreover, there appears to be no question about your office’s jurisdiction in this matter.

“Therefore, as detailed above, we urge your office to investigate the roles of Attorney General Barr and the Department of Justice in directing the use of force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, against peaceful protesters near Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020; deploying federal agents to suppress protests and intimidate peaceful protesters; and expanding the authority of DEA to conduct covert surveillance of protesters.”

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), also signed the letter. 

The full letter can be downloaded here or viewed below:

 

Dear Inspector General Horowitz, 

We write to request an immediate investigation into Attorney General William Barr’s and the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) roles in directing the use of force – including the use of tear gas or a similar gas, rubber bullets, pepper balls, and batons – to suppress peaceful protesters around Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., on June 1, 2020. This misuse of force is all the more alarming given that the Attorney General appears to have issued this order to allow President Trump to walk across the street from the White House for a political photo-op in front of St. John’s Church. Notably, Attorney General Barr was not only on the scene less than an hour before the use of force to clear peaceful protesters, but he also participated in President Trump’s photo op, posing for pictures in front of the church.

We further ask that you investigate Attorney General Barr’s and DOJ’s role in deploying federal law enforcement and security agencies to seemingly suppress protests and intimidate protesters throughout the country who are peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights. In the wake of the brutal murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, Americans all across our country are calling for an end to police brutality and a transformation of systems that perpetuate injustice and inequality. In response, President Trump has vowed to “dominate” the protesters.

The Attorney General and his Justice Department appear to be following through on the President’s vow by mobilizing agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP); the U.S. Marshals; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive; Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); and possibly other agencies, against peaceful protests. Some of these federal agents appear to have participated in using force to remove protesters from the area around Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020. According to eyewitness accounts and video footage, federal agents from these agencies, and other agencies, advanced on peaceful protesters with smoke canisters, pepper balls, riot shields, batons, and officers on horseback, with little warning before the 7 p.m. curfew. They fired rubber bullets at protesters, even as the protesters were retreating. They dropped canisters of gas to explode within several feet of a hundred people or more. They pushed protestors over and even struck a news camera crew with batons. These actions warrant an immediate investigation. 

Moreover, we are concerned by the deployment of federal agents who are trained to deal with prison riots, hostage situations, or other similar circumstances, but not adequately trained in protecting the constitutional rights of Americans engaged in peaceful protests. These concerns are amplified by the fact that some of federal officers were deployed in generic riot gear without displaying any identifying insignia and refused to identify themselves when asked. The lack of identifying information undermines accountability and furthers the distrust of law enforcement.

We are also deeply troubled by reports that the Justice Department has temporarily expanded the authority of DEA to “conduct covert surveillance” and collect intelligence on Americans exercising their constitutional rights to protest the murder of George Floyd. According to Buzzfeed News, the Justice Department also authorized DEA to share intelligence with local and state law enforcement authorities and intervene in a law enforcement role at protests. This expansion of DEA authority appears to be a misuse of DOJ’s powers that warrants further investigation.

We believe that the concerning actions we have identified warrant immediate investigation by your office, as they raise serious questions about misconduct, abuse of power, and waste by the Justice Department. Moreover, there appears to be no question about your office’s jurisdiction in this matter.

Therefore, as detailed above, we urge your office to investigate the roles of Attorney General Barr and the Department of Justice in directing the use of force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, against peaceful protesters near Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020; deploying federal agents to suppress protests and intimidate peaceful protesters; and expanding the authority of DEA to conduct covert surveillance of protesters. 

Sincerely,

 

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and 31 of their Senate colleagues in introducing sweeping police reform legislation. The Justice in Policing Act of 2020 is the first comprehensive legislative approach to ending police brutality and changing the culture of law enforcement departments by holding police accountable in court for misconduct, increasing transparency through better data collection, and improving police practices and training. The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass (D-CA), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and 165 cosponsors.

“Our national conversation about systemic racism is long overdue. Over and over, in communities across the country, we see Black men, women, and even children treated with violence and suspicion that white Americans never experience. There is not one single policy to address this crisis. It will take sustained effort at every level of government and society. However, the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 can begin to create the kind of systematic change we need,” said Sen. Warner. “Policing is a local issue, and much of the change we need to see will come at the state and local level. But there are areas where we can take action at the federal level. This bill may not be perfect, and as the legislative process proceeds we should be open to further improvements. We should also continue to engage the many members of law enforcement who are working tirelessly to bring change to their own neighborhoods and communities. But today’s introduction is a vital first step to ensuring that the principle of equal justice under the law is realized for all Americans, and I am proud to stand with Senators Booker and Harris to support this effort.”

“Far too many Americans, particularly Black Americans, have been victims of police brutality, and Congress can no longer be bystanders,” Sen. Kaine said. “This legislation will improve police training, transparency, and practices to help address systemic racism. We must enact meaningful change to make clear that police misconduct has no place in America.”

“America has a serious and deadly problem when it comes to the discriminatory and excessive policing of communities of color - and that policing exists within a system that time and again refuses to hold police accountable for their brutality,” Sen. Booker said. “For too long, this has been accepted as a cruel reality of being black in this country. We are forced to figure out how to keep ourselves safe from law enforcement and we are viewed as a threat to be protected against instead of people worth protecting.”

“And for too long, Congress has failed to act. That ends today with the landmark Justice in Policing Act which, for the first time in history, will take a comprehensive approach to ending police brutality. On the back-end, the bill fixes our federal laws so law enforcement officers are held accountable for egregious misconduct and police abuses are better tracked and reported. And on the front-end, the bill improves police practices and training to prevent these injustices from happening in the first place.”

“America’s sidewalks are stained with Black blood,” Sen. Harris said. “In the wake of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s murders, we must ask ourselves: how many more times must our families and our communities be put through the trauma of an unarmed Black man or woman’s killing at the hands of the very police who are sworn to protect and serve them? As a career prosecutor and former Attorney General of California, I know that real public safety requires community trust and police accountability. I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this historic legislation that will get our country on a path forward.”

Specifically, the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 would:

 

  • Hold police accountable in our courts by: 
    • Amending the mens rea requirement in 18 U.S.C. Section 242, the federal criminal statute to prosecute police misconduct, from “willfulness” to a “recklessness” standard;
    • Reforming qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that as currently interpreted shields law enforcement officers from being held legally liable for violating an individual’s constitutional rights. 
    • Improving the use of pattern and practice investigations at the federal level by granting the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division subpoena power and incentivizing state attorneys general to conduct pattern and practice investigations; 
    • Incentivizing states to create independent investigative structures for police involved deaths through grants; and
    • Creating best practices recommendations based on President Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force 
  • Improve transparency into policing by collecting better and more accurate data of police misconduct and use-of-force by:
    • Creating a National Police Misconduct Registry to prevent problem-officers from changing jurisdictions to avoid accountability; and
    • Mandating state and local law enforcement agencies report use of force data, disaggregated by race, sex, disability, religion, and age
  • Improve police training and practices by:
    • Ending racial and religious profiling;
    • Mandating training on racial bias and the duty to intervene; 
    • Banning no-knock warrants in drug cases;
    • Banning chokeholds and carotid holds;
    • Changing the use of force standard for federal officers from reasonableness to only when necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury;
    • Limiting the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement;
    • Requiring federal uniformed police officers to wear body cameras; and
    • Requiring state and local law enforcement to use existing federal funds to ensure the use of police body camera          
  • Make lynching a federal crime by:
    • Making it a federal crime to conspire to violate existing federal hate crimes laws

The Justice in Policing Act of 2020 has the support of a broad coalition of civil rights organizations including: Demand Progress, Lawyers' Committee For Civil Rights Under Law, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Action Network, National African American Clergy Network, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP), Black Millennial Convention, and the National Urban League.

"The National African American Clergy Network supports the Justice in Policing Bill.  It affirms sacred scripture that everyone is created in the image of God and deserves to be protected by police sworn to value and safeguard all lives. Failure by police to uphold this sacred trust with Black Americans lives, requires systemic changes in policing nationwide," said Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Dr. Otis Moss, Jr., Dr. T. DeWitt Smith, Jr., Co-Conveners, The National African American Clergy Network (NAACN). 

"It's time to close the chapter on a dark era of unchecked police violence in our country that has wreaked havoc on African American families across the country. The Justice in Policing Act is historic and long overdue legislation that will put our country on a path to reform.  This Act is responsive to many of the urgent demands being pressed for by our communities and by the people protesting for racial justice and equity across our nation. The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law commends the Congressional Black Caucus for their leadership on policing reform and this critical legislation, including Chair Karen Bass, Senator Cory Booker and Senator Kamala Harris," said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

"Sometimes difficult circumstances present a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring about historic change," said Marc H. Morial, President and CEO, the National Urban League. "The brutal actions of police in George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, along with botched execution of a no-knock warrant that killed Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and the brazen vigilante execution of Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, Georgia, have pushed the nation to the tipping point."

"For the past four-plus centuries, Black people have continuously been made to endure unfair, unjust, and inhumane treatment in this country. We have been made to believe in that if we worked hard, never complained, and accepted what the world offered that would be enough. What the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others have taught us is that obedience will never be enough; liberty and justice for all applies to everyone but us; and by us, we mean Black Americans, African Americans, Afro-Americans, or plainly put, Black people," said Waikinya J.S.Clanton, MBA Black Millennial Convention. 

In addition to Sens. Warner, Kaine, Booker and Harris, the bill was cosponsored by Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Bob Casey (D-PA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Murphy (D-CA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tom Udall (D-NM), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR). 

In addition to Reps. Bass and Nadler, the bill was cosponored in the House by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Katherine Clark (D-MA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), John Lewis (D-GA), Alma Adams (D-NC), Pete Aguilar (D-CA), Collin Allred (D-TX), Nanette Barragán (D-CA), Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Ami Bera (D-CA), Don Beyer (D-VA), Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (D-GA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Brendan Boyle (D-PA), Anthony G. Brown (D-MD), Julia Brownley (D-CA), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Salud Carbajal (D-CA), Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), Andre Carson (D-IN), Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Judy Chu (D-CA), David N. Cicilline (D-RI), Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY), Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Joe Courtney (D-CT), J. Luis Correa (D-CA), Jason Crow (D-CO), Danny K. Davis (D-IL), Susan Davis (D-CA), Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Antonio Delgado (D-NY), Val B. Demings (D-FL), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Mike Doyle (D-PA), Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), Veronica Escobar (D-TX), Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Dwight Evans (D-PA), Lois Frankel (D-FL), Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL), Sylvia R. García, (D-TX), Al Green (D-TX), Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX), Deb Haaland (D-NM), Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Jahana Hayes (D-CT), Denny Heck (D-WA), Brian Higgins (D-NY), Steven Horsford (D-NV), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Henry C. "Hank" Johnson, Jr. (D-GA), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Bill Keating (D-MA) Robin Kelly (D-IL), Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-MA), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Dan Kildee (D-MI), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), Annie Kuster (D-NH), Jim Langevin (D-RI), Brenda L. Lawrence (D-MI), Al Lawson (D-FL), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Nita Lowey (D-NY), Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA), Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), Lucy McBath (D-GA), Betty McCollum (D-MN), A. Donald McEachin (D-VA), James P. McGovern (D-MA), Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY), Grace Meng (D-NY), Kweisi Mfume (D-MD), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Seth Moulton (D-MA), Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL), Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA), Richard E. Neal (D-MA), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Donald Norcross (D-NJ), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-NJ),  Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Scott Peters (D-CA), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Stacey E. Plaskett (D-V.I.), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), David E. Price (D-NC), Jamie Raskin, (D-MD), Cedric L. Richmond (D-LA), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Bobby L. Rush (D-IL), Tim Ryan (D-OH), Linda Sánchez (D-CA), John Sarbanes (D-MD), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Bradley Scott Schneider (D-IL), Bobby Scott (D-VA), David Scott (D-GA), Jose Serrano (D-NY), Terri Sewell (D-AL), Donna Shalala (D-FL), Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Adam Smith (D-WA), Greg Stanton (D-AZ), Tom Suozzi (D-NY), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Mark Takano (D-CA), Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Mike Thompson (D-CA), Dina Titus (D-NV), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Paul Tonko (D-NY), Norma Torres (D-CA), Lori Trahan (D-MA), David Trone (D-MD), Lauren Underwood (D-IL), Marc Veasey (D-TX), Filemon Vela (D-TX), Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Maxine Waters (D-CA), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Peter Welch (D-VT), Frederica Wilson (D-FL) and John Yarmuth (D-KY).

Full text of the bill is available here

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) issued the following statement on reports that the FBI’s top lawyer Dana Boente was asked to resign Friday:

“Dana Boente served ably for many years as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, where we knew him as a dedicated and experienced career civil servant, a consummate professional, and an extremely capable attorney. Press reports indicate that he was pushed out of his position at the FBI following pressure from the highest levels of the Trump Justice Department, as retribution for his role in the investigation of the president’s former national security adviser. If this is accurate, Mr. Boente appears to be one more victim of the Attorney General’s disturbing crusade to turn the Department of Justice into another arm of the president’s political campaign.”

From 2013 to 2015, Dana Boente served as acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. In 2015, following arecommendation from Sens. Warner and Kaine, Boente was nominated and confirmed to serve as U.S. Attorney.

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) applauded $720,441 in federal funding through the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to assist Loudoun County, the City of Manassas, and the City of Norfolk in responding to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. The federal funding was made possible through the FY2020 Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding (CESF) program, which was authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act supported by Sens. Warner and Kaine.

“Right now, we need to make sure that our local governments can continue to count on the resources they need to keep combating this crisis,” said the Senators. “That’s why we’re glad to know that this federal funding will be used to support additional supplies in Loudoun, Manassas and Norfolk.”

The funding will be distributed as follows:

  • $114,472 for Loudoun County
  • $41,306 for the City of Manassas
  • $564,663 for the City of Norfolk

CESF funding may be used to help purchase equipment – including law enforcement and medical personal protective equipment – or supplies, such as gloves, masks, and sanitizer. It can also be used to pay for overtime, hiring, training, or travel expenses – particularly those related to the distribution of resources to the most impacted areas. The funding can also be used to address the medical needs of inmates in state, local, and tribal prisons, jails, and detention centers.

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and 13 Senate colleagues in urging the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to address the surge in discrimination and hate crimes against Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) individuals in the wake of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. In a letter to Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Dreiband, the Senators requested that the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ address this spike in discrimination by taking a concrete steps similar to those DOJ has taken in the past to address jumps in discrimination and hate crimes against a particular community. 

“We write to express our deep concern about the surge in discrimination and hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the currently inadequate federal response to address these racist and xenophobic attacks, a sharp break from the efforts of past administrations, Republican and Democratic alike,” the Senators wrote.

“There are more than 20 million Americans of Asian descent, and 2 million AAPI individuals are working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, as health care workers, law enforcement agents, first responders, and other essential service providers,” they continued. “It is critical that the Civil Rights Division ensure that the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans are protected during this pandemic.”

In the last month alone, Asian American organizations received nearly 1,500 incidents of anti-Asian harassment and discrimination against AAPI individuals across the country. This comes after the FBI assessed in March that hate crime incidents against Asian Americans were likely to surge across the country, endangering AAPI communities.

In their letter, the Senators expressed disappointment at the DOJ’s inadequate response to this threat, and called for the DOJ Civil Rights Division to release a plan to address COVID-19-related hate crimes and discrimination, designate an official to coordinate an interagency response and a review of these incidents, and provide monthly updates to Congress. In addition, they asked the Division to conduct public outreach and engage with AAPI community leaders and distribute materials about civil rights protections in languages used by AAPI communities.

In addition to Sens. Warner, Hirono and Booker, the letter was also signed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jack Reed (D-RI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Dick Durbin (D-IL).

Sen. Warner has been outspoken about the need to prevent discrimination and harassment towards Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, he wrote to the President, urging him to avoid using rhetoric that fuels racism towards Asian Americans, and to prevent confusion about COVID-19 from being exploited to target communities of color. He has also previously pressed the coronavirus taskforce only to distribute accurate information about the virus and dispel misinformation or discriminatory rhetoric to help prevent suspicion, panic and race-based assaults. Additionally, he has requested that the Vice President correct the record on mixed Trump administration messages related to COVID-19, and that the FBI conduct community outreach and engage leaders of Chinese American and Asian American organizations to increase connectivity and dialogue.

The letter is available here and below:

 

Dear Assistant Attorney General Dreiband:

We write to express our deep concern about the surge in discrimination and hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the currently inadequate federal response to address these racist and xenophobic attacks, a sharp break from the efforts of past administrations, Republican and Democratic alike. We strongly urge you to take concrete steps to address the disturbing increase in anti-Asian discrimination, as the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) has done in the past.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, researchers have reported an alarming spike in anti-Asian racism. On March 14, 2020, a man stabbed two Asian American children – a 2-year-old and a 6- year-old – and their father at a Sam’s Club in Texas because “he thought the family was Chinese, and infecting people with the coronavirus.” In the past month alone, the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council and its partners have received nearly 1,500 reports of coronavirus-related harassment and discrimination against AAPI individuals across the country.

Despite warnings that using offensive and stigmatizing language to refer to COVID-19 could stoke anti-Asian bias, President Trump and his administration’s officials have referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese Virus,” “Wuhan Virus,” and at least one White House official even called it the “Kung Flu.” Such harmful rhetoric contradicts guidance by public health experts. The World Health Organization’s guidance in naming infectious diseases warns against using names that stigmatize certain communities, as such use has “provoke[d] a backlash” against these communities in the past and “can have serious consequences for peoples’ lives and livelihoods.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recognizes the “stigma and discrimination [that] can occur when people associate a disease, such as COVID-19, with a population or nationality.” 

In March 2020, the FBI assessed that “hate crime incidents against Asian Americans likely will surge across the United States, due to the spread of coronavirus disease … endangering Asian American communities.” Even though this warning was issued more than a month ago, the Department of Justice has taken little action. In response the Center for Public Integrity’s inquiries about DOJ’s actions to address the increase in anti-Asian discrimination and hate crimes, DOJ pointed to an op-ed you published in the Washington Examiner and a briefing call with Asian American advocacy groups. An op-ed and a briefing call are far from an adequate response from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, whose stated purpose is to “uphold the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans, particularly some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”

By contrast, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks set off a wave of hate incidents against Arab, Muslim, Sikh and South Asian Americans, the Civil Rights Division implemented a plan with three major elements. This included “(1) a clear and plain statement to the American people that Arab, Muslim, Sikh, and South Asian Americans are Americans too, and that hate crimes and discrimination against them would not be tolerated; (2) outreach to the affected communities; and (3) coordination of civil rights enforcement across agencies at all levels of government.” DOJ established a crime task force with experienced federal prosecutors from the Civil Rights Division and various U.S. Attorney’s Offices. The Civil Rights Division also created a team within its National Origin Working Group to document reports of discrimination and make appropriate referrals within the Division and to other federal agencies, and to conduct outreach to affected communities with material translated into multiple languages. In 2011, the Division further acknowledged that significant challenges remained in addressing these issues, noting the concerns affected communities raised regarding other federal programs implemented in the aftermath of 9/11.

There are more than 20 million Americans of Asian descent, and 2 million AAPI individuals are working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, as health care workers, law enforcement agents, first responders, and other essential service providers. It is critical that the Civil Rights Division ensure that the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans are protected during this pandemic. To address the spike in anti-Asian discrimination and hate crimes, we ask that the Civil Rights Division immediately: 

  • Develop and publicly release a plan that sets forth how the Civil Rights Division will address the increase in discrimination and hate crimes against AAPI individuals;
  • Designate a DOJ official responsible for coordinating (a) a review of discrimination and hate crimes related to COVID-19 and (b) an interagency response to this issue;
  • Provide monthly reports to Congress on the (a) number of incidents of discrimination and hate crimes related to COVID-19 received—disaggregated by race, ethnicity, and gender, and (b) status of related cases that are pending;
  • Conduct extensive outreach in partnership with community-based organizations and regularly meet with AAPI community leaders; and
  • Distribute materials explaining civil rights protections in diverse languages used by AAPI communities. 

We also request that the Civil Rights Division respond by May 15, 2020, to inform Congress what steps has the Division has taken in response to the jump in anti-Asian discrimination and hate crimes since the COVID-19 outbreak began. Please identify the actions each of the sections in the Civil Rights Division have taken to address specific types of discrimination, such as workplace discrimination and harassment in the education context.

Thank you in advance for your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) applauded $10,832,775 in federal funding through the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to assist the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services in preventing, preparing for and responding to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. The federal funding was made possible through the FY2020 Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding (CESF) program, which provides $850 million to assist states, local units of government and tribes during this outbreak. The CESF funding was authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act supported by Sens. Warner and Kaine.

“Every day, our law enforcement professionals put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe,” said the Senators. “In the face of this dangerous outbreak, it’s more important than ever that these officials have the supplies they need to do their jobs as safely as possible. That’s why we’re glad to know that these federal dollars will help the Commonwealth pay for the resources it needs as we fight this outbreak.”

Earlier this week, the DOJ also awarded $259,453 in CESF funding to three localities in the Commonwealth as follows: 

  • $112,531 for the City of Lynchburg
  • $98,689 for the City of Petersburg
  • $48,233 for Henry County

CESF funding may be used to help purchase equipment – including law enforcement and medical personal protective equipment – or supplies, such as gloves, masks, and sanitizer. It can also be used to pay for overtime, hiring, training, or travel expenses – particularly those related to the distribution of resources to the most impacted areas. The funding can also be used to address the medical needs of inmates in state, local, and tribal prisons, jails, and detention centers.

###

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine sent a letter to the White House recommending U.S. Magistrate Judge Roderick C. Young and U.S. Magistrate Judge Douglas E. Miller for the vacancy in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Norfolk Division. 
 
“We are pleased to recommend U.S. Magistrate Judge Roderick C. Young and U.S. Magistrate Judge Douglas E. Miller for the vacancy in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Norfolk Division, following the decision by Judge Rebecca Beach Smith to take senior status effective August 1, 2019. Both Judge Young and Judge Miller would serve with great distinction and have our highest recommendation,” the Senators said.
 
Warner and Kaine recommend these individuals based on the assessments of an independent panel of attorneys from across the Commonwealth as well as feedback from numerous bar associations in Virginia. The White House will now nominate one individual for the position to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The nomination is subject to confirmation by the full Senate.
 
Full text of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Norfolk Division letter is available here and below. 
 
 
March 19, 2020
 
The Honorable Donald J. Trump
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
 
Dear Mr. President:
 
We are pleased to recommend U.S. Magistrate Judge Roderick C. Young and U.S. Magistrate Judge Douglas E. Miller for the vacancy in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Norfolk Division, following the decision by Judge Rebecca Beach Smith to take senior status effective August 1, 2019. Both Judge Young and Judge Miller would serve with great distinction and have our highest recommendation.
 
Judge Young has served as a Magistrate Judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Richmond Division, since 2014. In this capacity, he has drafted over 300 Report and Recommendations and presided over close to 300 settlement conferences. From 2002 to 2014, he worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, serving as Deputy Criminal Supervisor from 2012 to 2014. In that position, he supervised all drug and violent crime prosecutions, reviewed all indictments, and approved all charging decisions and plea agreements, all while litigating his own cases. Recommendations from various Bar Associations and their individual members within the Commonwealth reflect that practitioners would respect his rulings and that litigants would have reassurance of receiving a fair trial.
 
Likewise, we recommend Judge Miller, who has served with distinction as U.S. Magistrate Judge in the Eastern District of Virginia since 2010. During this time, he has presided over criminal and civil matters, and has conducted numerous bench trials. Judge Miller has resolved most civil cases through dispositive motions practice and successful settlement conferences. He has written numerous reports and recommendations to the Article III judges on the Eastern District bench, and has authored over 400 opinions. Judge Miller exhibits the professionalism, integrity, and fairness sought in a sitting Article III judge, and he has been deeply devoted to his community and the Peninsula area where he resides.                    
 
Ultimately, we believe either of these individuals would win confirmation from the Senate and serve capably on the bench. We are honored to recommend them to you.
 
Sincerely,

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) pressed the Justice Department (DOJ) to provide details on specific reforms being implemented to avoid a repeat of its drawn-out and opaque investigation of U.S. Park Police’s fatal shooting of Bijan Ghaisar. Their request follows a recent briefing from DOJ on the missteps that resulted in a two-year review of the officers’ actions in which details leaked to the news media before being shared with Ghaisar’s family.

“We must work together to ensure future investigations are handled in a more transparent, expedient, and thoughtful manner, which is a critical component if we are to maintain the public’s trust in law enforcement and our institutions.  Furthermore, in order to prevent leaks to the media, the Department must carefully review and strengthen the process by which it notifies family members of declination decisions,” the senators wrote in a letter to Attorney General William Barr.

In January of 2018, Warner, along with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), pushed the FBI for an update on the status of the FBI’s investigation into the fatal 2017 shooting. In October of that year, Warner sent a letter to the head of the National Park Service (NPS) regarding the circumstances under which U.S. Park Police officers engaged with Mr. Ghaisar.

Grassley, then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, contacted the FBI about the investigation in December of 2018. The FBI responded in March of 2019 with little information, provoking a follow-up letter from Grassley.

In June of 2019, Grassley and Warner decried the opaque and drawn-out nature of the review in letters to both the FBI and NPS. The FBI provided a brief response in August, leaving many questions unanswered. In October, NPS provided a partial response, which prompted a follow-up letter from Grassley and Warner in November inquiring about policy updates and related information. To date, the NPS has yet to respond to either Senator concerning this letter. In Senate Floor remarks today, Grassley called on the Park Police to prioritize its responses to Congressional inquiries on the Ghaisar case.

Following the recent conclusion of the FBI’s investigation, the senators pledged to seek greater transparency, and requested a briefing from DOJ, which was provided on February 25, 2020. During the briefing, senior officials expressed that Barr was in the process of instituting changes to ensure future investigations are handled in a more expedient and appropriate manner.

Full text of the senators’ letter follows:

 

March 13, 2020

VIA MAIL AND ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION

The Honorable William P. Barr

Attorney General

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20530

Dear Attorney General Barr:

We appreciate your recent attention to the concerns we have raised over the last two years around the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) and Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) handling of the Bijan Ghaisar investigation.  During a recent briefing from DOJ, senior DOJ officials made references to several changes you are implementing to ensure future investigations will be handled in a more efficient and considerate manner.  We write today to request more information on the specifics of these planned changes.

On November 17, 2017, Bijan Ghaisar was shot and killed by two U.S. Park Police officers while in his car and unarmed.  The FBI subsequently investigated the deadly shooting for close to two years, and DOJ ultimately declined to prosecute the two Park Police officers.  Throughout the entire investigation, we raised concerns over the lack of transparency, the length of the investigation, and DOJ’s overall treatment of the Ghaisar family, including how the Department communicated and shared information with the family.

We must work together to ensure future investigations are handled in a more transparent expedient, and thoughtful manner, which is a critical component if we are to maintain the public’s trust in law enforcement and our institutions.  Furthermore, in order to prevent leaks to the media, the Department must carefully review and strengthen the process by which it notifies family members of declination decisions. In Bijan’s case, his family first heard about the Department’s decision not to file charges from a reporter seeking comment.  This is completely unacceptable, and frankly embarrassing. The Department must take steps to prevent such callousness in the future.  We look forward to learning more about the planned changes at DOJ and FBI to prevent future investigations from being handled in a similar manner.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Grassley

United States Senator

Mark R. Warner

United States Senator

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement today after voting against the nomination of Katharine MacGregor to be Deputy Secretary of the Interior:

“Today, I voted against Katharine MacGregor’s nomination to be Deputy Secretary of the Interior, following the Department of the Interior’s failure to respond to my many questions about the tragic shooting and killing of Virginian Bijan Ghaisar by two U.S. Park Police officers more than two years ago. In November, I wrote the Department requesting information regarding the United States Park Police’s Use of Force and Vehicle Pursuit policies and the Park Service’s response to the shooting of Bijan. While copies of the updated Use of Force and Vehicle Pursuit policies were recently provided to the Washington Post, I still have not received a substantive response to my numerous inquiries to the Department about these policies, as well as the circumstances surrounding Bijan’s death.

“If the Department continues to ignore my requests for information, I will strongly consider placing a hold on Interior nominees moving forward until I receive adequate responses to my questions surrounding the Park Service’s handling of the shooting. Today, I met with the Department of Justice to receive a briefing on their investigation into Bijan’s death. Both DOJ and the Department of the Interior still face many unanswered questions, and Bijan’s family deserves answers about what happened the night their son and brother was shot and killed. Two years is too long to wait.”

In January of 2018, Warner, along with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), pushed the FBI for an update on the status of the FBI’s investigation into the fatal 2017 shooting. In October of that year, Warner sent a letter to the head of the National Park Service (NPS) regarding the circumstances under which U.S. Park Police officers engaged with Mr. Ghaisar.

In June 2019, Sen. Warner along with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) decried the opaque and drawn-out nature of the review of the Ghaisar case in letters to both the FBI and NPS. The FBI provided a brief response in August, leaving many questions unanswered. In October, NPS provided a partial response, which prompted a follow-up letter from the Senators seeking more information.

In November, the Senators formally requested an FBI briefing on its investigation into the fatal shooting.

###

 

WASHINGTON – After repeated delays and unresponsiveness by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr urging the agency to comply with the law and fully implement the Ashanti Alert system by the March 19th deadline. This date was imposed by Sen. Warner, who successfully included language in the government funding bills directing the DOJ to take swift measures to get the critical life-saving alert system fully implemented. 

“I am profoundly disappointed that the Department has failed to implement the Ashanti Alert system in a well-organized and competent way.  I look forward to the Department’s report and expeditious implementation,” wrote Sen. Warner.

Sen. Warner is a champion of the Ashanti Alert system. On December 6, 2018, Sen. Warner secured unanimous passage of the Ashanti Alert Act through the Senate. In August 2019, he reiterated the need for the alert’s swift implementation, following a meeting with Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Sullivan. He has also previously demanded in-person meetings with the DOJ, repeatedly pressed the DOJ for implementation updates, and urged congressional appropriators to provide full funding for the timely implementation of the Ashanti Alert.

A copy of the letter can be found here and below.

 

Dear Attorney General Barr:

Over a year ago, President Trump signed the bipartisan Ashanti Alert Act (P.L.115-401) into law.  I write today to draw your attention to language I included in the FY20 Consolidated Appropriations Act directing the Department of Justice to take swift measures to fully implement the Ashanti Alert system.  

Specifically, Congress directs the Department “to provide a report to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees no later than 30 days after enactment” of the FY20 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 116 –93) detailing progress on the implementation of the Ashanti Alert Act. Further, the language directs the report to set out a final deadline for implementation no later than 90 days after enactment.  As the FY20 Consolidated Appropriations Act was enacted on December 20, 2019, I will look for the Department’s initial report next week, which should include a plan for full implementation of the Ashanti Alert Act by March 19, 2020.

As I have noted in three previous letters, the Ashanti Alert system will save lives by closing the existing gap in our nation’s missing person alert systems.  This crucial public safety system is named in honor of Ashanti Billie, a 19-year-old who was abducted in Norfolk, Virginia on September 18, 2017.  Ashanti was found murdered – 11 days after she was initially reported missing.  Because of Ashanti’s age, she did not qualify for AMBER or Silver Alerts and thus critical resources were not used to locate her whereabouts.

I am profoundly disappointed that the Department has failed to implement the Ashanti Alert system in a well-organized and competent way.  I look forward to the Department’s report and expeditious implementation.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined 35 members of the U.S. Senate and 161 members of the U.S. House of Representatives fin filing an amicus brief in the case of June Medical Services LLC v. Gee, which is currently pending before the Supreme Court of the United States and represents a direct challenge to the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade. 

June Medical Services LLC v. Gee addresses the impact of Louisiana’s Act 620, an extreme anti-abortion law that forces abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic. The law provides no medical benefit and would harm patients by stifling access to abortion care. If the law goes into effect, only one clinic and one abortion provider would remain in Louisiana – a state with over 360,000 women of reproductive age.

“Act 620, disguised as an effort to promote women’s health, provides no medical benefit and instead will only create significant obstacles for women seeking abortions,” the lawmakers wrote in the brief. 

Lawmakers emphasized in the brief that, just three years ago in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Court struck down a materially identical Texas law because it imposed significant burdens on abortion access without providing health or safety benefits. Since then, the facts, the law and the Constitution have remained the same. Lawmakers urged the court to uphold its precedent in Roe, Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Whole Woman’s Health and strike down Act 620.

“There is no compelling reason here to upend this settled precedent, and no change of circumstances between Whole Woman’s Health and this action that justifies a different outcome … Laws like Act 620, enacted in defiance of this Court’s constitutional pronouncements, undermine our nation’s confidence in the legislative process and the rule of law,” wrote the lawmakers in the brief.

Read the amicus brief here.  

 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) today formally requested an FBI briefing on its investigation into the fatal shooting of Bijan Ghaisar by U.S. Park Police in 2017. The FBI announced the conclusion to its lengthy investigation last week, but did not fully explain its findings, including why the two officers opened fire on Ghaisar.

The senators have long sought transparency into the circumstances surrounding the deadly use of force and the FBI’s review of the case, but the FBI largely declined to provide details at the time, citing an ongoing investigation. Now that the investigation has concluded, the senators are demanding greater clarity to provide needed transparency and preserve the public trust.

“Despite nearly two years of investigating this incident in which considerable FBI resources were used, the Ghaisar family, Congress, and the general public still do not have all the answers.  The FBI needs to provide a full and thorough account of the events that led to Mr. Ghaisar’s untimely death,” the Senators wrote.

In January of 2018, Warner, along with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), pushed the FBI for an update on the status of the FBI’s investigation into the fatal 2017 shooting. In October of that year, Warner sent a letter to the head of the National Park Service (NPS) regarding the circumstances under which U.S. Park Police officers engaged with Mr. Ghaisar.

Grassley, then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, contacted the FBI about the investigation in December of 2018. The FBI responded in March with little information, provoking a follow-up letter from Grassley.

In June, Grassley and Warner decried the opaque and drawn-out nature of the review in letters to both the FBI and NPS. The FBI provided a brief response in August, leaving many questions unanswered. In October, NPS provided a partial response, which prompted a follow-up letter from the Senators seeking more information.

Following the recent conclusion of the FBI’s investigation, the senators pledged to seek greater transparency. Full text of the senators’ official request for a briefing follows. A copy of the letter is available here.

 

November 20, 2019

The Honorable Christopher Wray

Director

Federal Bureau of Investigations

Washington, D.C. 20535

Dear Director Wray:

We write today to request a briefing and a response to Senator Warner’s letter from January 30, 2018, Senator Grassley’s letters from December 17, 2018, and March 22, 2019, and the Senators’ joint letter from June 18, 2019, on the shooting of Bijan Ghaisar.  While the FBI has announced it has concluded its investigation into the shooting of Mr. Ghaisar, the FBI has continuously refused to answer several questions that were raised in the aforementioned letters because the investigation had yet to conclude.  Now that the investigation has concluded, we expect to receive answers to these questions and a briefing on the FBI’s investigative process and findings. 

Investigations into the use of deadly force must be handled in a way that reinforces public confidence in law enforcement.  Following completion of these types of investigations, it is necessary for investigators to be fully transparent to ensure that the public understands the circumstances of each incident.  This creates transparency and builds public trust in law enforcement.  Despite nearly two years of investigating this incident in which considerable FBI resources were used, the Ghaisar family, Congress, and the general public still do not have all the answers.  The FBI needs to provide a full and thorough account of the events that led to Mr. Ghaisar’s untimely death.

In order to shed light on this delicate situation, we ask that you respond to Senator Grassley’s and Warner’s letters and provide us with a briefing summarizing the findings of this investigation by no later than December 15, 2019.   Additionally, we ask that you please arrange a time to provide our staffs with a briefing no later than December 6, 2019.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Grassley

United States Senator

Mark Warner

United States Senator

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) in sponsoring a bipartisan Senate resolution (S.J. Res. 6) that would immediately remove the ratification deadline for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Following this month’s elections in Virginia, the Commonwealth is poised to be the 38th and final state needed to ratify the ERA. If ratified, the ERA would finally guarantee full and equal protections to women in the Constitution.

“More than 96 years after the Equal Rights Amendment was first proposed, Virginia is about to take a giant step forward for women’s equality by becoming the 38th state to ratify the ERA,” Warner said. “This resolution will ensure that, even though this fight took decades, women’s equality will finally be fully and expressly recognized in our Constitution.” 

“This year marks the 100th anniversary of passage of the 19th amendment, yet women are still not explicitly recognized as equal under our Constitution,” said Kaine. “This resolution would ensure there’s still time to ratify the ERA, which will finally guarantee equal protections to women and strengthen our ability to fight gender discrimination. I hope Virginia will make history by becoming the 38th state to ratify the ERA.”

“Thank you to Senators Warner and Kaine for their strong support of the Equal Rights Amendment, which would prohibit discrimination based on sex.  Today I filed my first bill for the 2020 General Assembly Session, to make Virginia the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, guaranteeing women the same legal rights and protections as men under the law. Our Commonwealth stands poised to make history – and with champions like Senator Warner and Senator Kaine in Washington, we can finally make sure that the Equal Rights Amendment becomes a part of the U.S. Constitution,” said State Senator Jennifer McClellan, who filed a resolution in the Virginia Senate today to ratify the ERA. 

“Having worked with so many activists across the Commonwealth on two ERA bus tours, I know how important this issue is to women across Virginia. And as one of the first women to graduate from Virginia Military Institute, this fight is personal. It's time to enshrine women’s fundamental rights in the United States Constitution, and I thank Senators Warner and Kaine for being steadfast advocates for equality,” said State Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, who filed a resolution in the Virginia House of Delegates today to ratify the ERA.

Thirty-seven states, of the 38 needed, have already ratified the amendment, which Congress approved in 1972. Only one more state is needed among Virginia, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Utah. The Virginia Senate passed a federal Equal Rights Amendment measure in January, but it was blocked by the then Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates. With both chambers now under Democratic control, Virginia is expected to soon become the 38th state to ratify the ERA.

The bipartisan U.S. Senate resolution (S.J. Res. 6) supported by Warner and Kaine would immediately remove the ratification deadline, paving the way for full and equal protections to women in the Constitution. Article V of the Constitution contains no time limits for ratification of amendments, and the states finally ratified the Twenty-Seventh Amendment in 1992 regarding Congressional pay raises more than 200 years after Congress proposed it in 1789 as part of the original Bill of Rights. The ERA time limit was contained in a joint resolution, not the actual text of the amendment, and Congress has already once voted to extend the ERA ratification deadline. The bipartisan resolution sponsored by Warner and Kaine would put to bed any potential ambiguity over adding the ERA to the Constitution once Virginia becomes the 38th state to ratify.

 

The Equal Rights Amendment would finally give women full and equal protection under the Constitution. It reads as follows:

  • Section 1.  Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
  • Section 2.  The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
  • Section 3.  This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) today issued the following statement after an announcement by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that it will not pursue action against the U.S. Park Police officers who shot and killed Fairfax County resident Bijan Ghaisar in 2017:

“The Ghaisar family has experienced so much pain over the last two years, not just in coping with the loss of their beloved son and brother Bijan, but also in trying to understand what led to his death. Today’s announcement by the Department of Justice that it will not be pursuing federal civil rights criminal charges against the police officers who shot and killed an unarmed man will only add to this family’s heartbreak. The Department’s statement also adds to the long list of questions that remain unanswered years later, despite a two-year investigation.

“The Ghaisars deserve to understand what happened to Bijan. To that end, we will be formally requesting a briefing within the next 30 days from the Department of Justice to understand what went into the decision not to pursue charges in this case.  We will continue to closely follow this case, including whether state or local charges are filed, or an internal affairs investigation is opened.”

Earlier this month, Sens. Warner and Grassley wrote to the acting director of the National Park Service with a series of questions regarding the U.S. Park Police’s policies and guidelines around officer-involved shooting incidents and vehicle pursuit, and the Ghaisar investigation. Additionally, in June, the Senators called on the FBI and the National Park Service to improve transparency surrounding their review of the Ghaisar shooting. In January 2018, Sen. Warner, along with U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), pushed the FBI for an update on the status of the FBI’s investigation into the Ghaisar shooting. That April, the FBI responded that it would not discuss an active investigation. Sen. Warner has also pressed the National Park Service regarding the circumstances under which U.S. Park Police officers engaged with Mr. Ghaisar, and has talked with leaders from both the National Park Service and the FBI to encourage full transparency regarding this incident.

###

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein and all of their Democratic colleagues in introducing the Senate companion to the House-passed Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. The bill, which would reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) through 2024, provides essential protections and resources to survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse. The legislation preserves advancements made in previous reauthorizations and includes a number of additional improvements to the current law. 

“Unfortunately, in today’s society, there’s so much more we must do to combat violence against women. This legislation passed the House with bipartisan support and we need to do the same in the Senate. We’re calling on our colleagues to help us swiftly pass this bill to protect survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse,” the Senators said. 

Key provisions in the bill:

  • Protects Native American women by improving tribal access to federal crime information databases and reaffirming tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian perpetrators of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking for all federally recognized Indian tribes and Alaskan Natives.
  • Explicitly states that grant recipients are allowed to train staff and others on identifying and stopping discrimination against LGBT individuals. Service providers currently remain uncertain about whether they can use grants to train for this. 
  • Reauthorizes and updates the SMART Prevention Program to reduce dating violence, help children who have been exposed to violence, and engage men in preventing violence.
  • Expands grants under the Public Health Service Act to support implementation of training programs to improve the capacity of early childhood programs to address domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking among the families they serve.
  • Provides services, protection, and justice for young victims of violence, including extending the Rape Prevention and Education grant program, addressing bullying of young people, improving grants focused on prevention education for students and expanding relevant training for school-based and campus health centers.
  • Preserves and expands housing protections for survivors.
  • Provides economic security assistance for survivors by reauthorizing the National Resource Center on Workplace Responses. Protects employees from being fired because they are survivors of sexual assault or domestic violence and protects survivors’ eligibility to receive unemployment insurance.
  • Enhances judicial and law enforcement tools through reauthorization of the Justice Department’s STOP Violence Against Women Formula Program, known as the STOP Program. Authorizes the use of STOP Program grants to expand the use of grant funding for programs focused on increasing survivor, law enforcement, and community safety; increase legal assistance for dependent children in appropriate circumstances; and develop and enforce firearm surrender policies.
  • Protects the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women from being merged or consolidated into any other Department office.
  • Helps prevent “intimate partner” homicides by including provisions expanding firearms laws to prohibit persons convicted of dating violence from possessing firearms, prohibiting persons convicted of stalking from possessing firearms, and prohibiting individuals subject to ex parte protective orders from possessing firearms.

Warner and Kaine have long supported victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. As Governor of Virginia, Kaine made curbing violence a top priority by convening the Governor’s Commission on Sexual Violence and implementing numerous recommendations. Some of the reforms included updating domestic violence laws, improving treatment of victims, and providing additional resources to first responders. In 2011, a census of domestic violence shelters and services found that 1,304 domestic violence victims were served in just one day in Virginia.

 

###

 

WASHINGTON – Frustrated by repeated delays and inaction by the Department of Justice (DOJ), U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) successfully pushed for the inclusion of an amendment to the FY2020 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations Act that would force the DOJ to report to Congress a date for the full implementation of the Ashanti Alert.

“Every day that the Department of Justice delays in getting this alert system up and running, we fail in providing our law enforcement the tools they need to help save lives,” said Sen. Warner. “Frankly, there is no excuse for the DOJ’s failure to follow through on implementing the Ashanti Alert system or even provide a timeline for when it will be operational. With the inclusion of this amendment, the DOJ will finally have to provide some answers for the Billie family and those who’ve pushed for this lifesaving alert.”

The amendment will be included as part of the “minibus II” funding package that funds several federal agencies, including the DOJ. It forces the DOJ to provide Congress with a progress report of the Ashanti Alert implementation 30 days immediately after the bill is signed into law. Additionally, the amendment requires that the DOJ establish a deadline for full implementation of the Ashanti Alert Act no later than 90 days after the enactment of this bill. Following today’s Senate passage, Sen. Warner will continue to push the provision forward as the House of Representatives and Congress work through the spending bill process.

Sen. Warner’s amendment was also cosponsored by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). Sen. Warner, who secured unanimous passage of this bill through the Senate on December 6, 2018, has been a leader in the fight to implement the Ashanti Alert. In August, he reiterated the need for the alert’s swift implementation, following a meeting with Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Sullivan. He has also previously demanded in-person meetings with the DOJ, repeatedly pressed the DOJ for implementation updates, and urged congressional appropriators to provide full funding for the timely implementation of the Ashanti Alert.

The amendment language can be found here.

###

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine applauded Senate passage of bipartisan legislation to fund federal programs critical to Virginia under the Department of Transportation (DOT), Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Department of Commerce (DOC), Department of Justice (DOJ), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Department of Interior (DOI). 

On a bipartisan 84-9 vote, the Senate approved the Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations package that covers funding for Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD); Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration; Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS); Interior and Environment; and all of their related agencies. Warner and Kaine pushed for many Virginia priorities through the appropriations process and have long pressed the Senate to return to regular budget order to make sure there are no gaps in funding that could cause a government shutdown.

“I’m pleased to see the passage of this bipartisan legislation, which includes significant support for Virginia priorities,” Warner said. “This bill provides much-needed resources for ongoing Chesapeake Bay restoration and cleanup efforts. It also supports investments to the Metro system that are critical to the capital region, and vital funding to support families across the Commonwealth. I’m also pleased that this bill includes my provision to give Congress more clarity on the Department of Justice’s progress on Ashanti Alert implementation. As we move forward, it’s my hope that my colleagues in both the House and the Senate will continue fighting to ensure the Ashanti Alert implementation is a priority for this Administration.”

“Each year, I’m proud to help secure federal funding that will strengthen the economy and improve the lives of Virginians,” Kaine said. “I’m pleased that again, key Virginia priorities we made the case for – like funding to promote a healthy Chesapeake Bay, improve daily commutes, and support economic development in coal communities – were included in the appropriations package passed by the Senate. I hope Congress passes a final appropriations bill quickly so that Virginians benefit from this funding without delay.” 

The following list includes many of the provisions Senators Warner and Kaine supported on behalf of Virginia that were included in the appropriations package:

  • Ashanti Alert System: The bill includes a provision supported by both Senators that forces the Department of Justice (DOJ) to provide Congress with a progress report of the Ashanti Alert implementation 30 days immediately after the appropriations bill is signed into law. Additionally, the amendment requires that the DOJ establish a deadline for full implementation no later than 90 days after the enactment of the Ashanti Alert Act, which creates an alert system for missing or endangered adults ages 18-64.
  • Broadband Grants: The bill provides $30 million to fund a grant program administered by the Rural Utilities Service that brings critical services to some of the most rural, underserved areas in America. The program provides financing to support new or improved broadband access across rural America and enable telecommunications providers to fill gaps where there is little or no broadband service. Broadband access has become a critical part of basic economic infrastructure for Virginians and is vital for job creation.
  • WMATA: The bill includes the full federal funding of $150 million for Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) capital improvement. Warner and Kaine previously urged Senate appropriators to provide additional funding to WMATA to address the safety maintenance backlog. In May, the Senators introduced legislation to renew the federal funding commitment to Metro, provide critical safety reforms, and strengthen oversight of WMATA.
  • Child Nutrition: The bill provides $23.6 billion for Child Nutrition Programs, including $30 million for school equipment grants and $28 million for Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT). The Summer EBT program helps reach communities in Virginia that face barriers to participation in traditional summer food service programs and reduce rates of food insecurity among children.
  • Rural Water Infrastructure: The bill maintains $1.4 billion in water and waste direct loans and $549 million in water and waste grants to support quality of life in rural communities.
  • 400 Years of African American History Commemoration: The bill provides $500,000 for the commission to commemorate 400 years since the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to English Colonial America at Point Comfort, Virginia and honor four centuries of African American history. The Senators sponsored legislation, which was signed into law in 2018, to establish the commission. 
  • Chesapeake Bay: The bill provides $76 million for the Chesapeake Bay Program, a regional partnership that directs and conducts the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. It also includes $3 million for the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network, which helps increase public access and the use of ecological, cultural, and historic resources of the Chesapeake region.
  • National Park Service: The bill provides $2.56 billion for operations of the National Park Service. In 2017, more than 24 million individuals visited Virginia’s National Parks. National Park Service assets also fill critical transportation needs for Virginians, such as the Arlington Memorial Bridge, connecting Northern Virginia with the District of Columbia. The bill also provides $1.25 billion for bridge repair and replacement, $100 million for nationally significant federal transportation assets, and $100 million for the Appalachian Development Highway System. This funding could help with Virginia's backlogged maintenance needs at Colonial National Historical Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway, as well as long overdue needs on the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Senator Warner has sponsored legislation, cosponsored by Kaine, to address the $12 billion maintenance backlog at the National Park Service, half of which is transportation needs.
  • Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF): The bill provides $465 million for LWCF, which has helped preserve forests, trails, wildlife refuges, historic battlefields, and Chesapeake Bay lands and waters in Virginia. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, the Virginia outdoors industry supports approximately $21.9 billion in annual consumer spending and 197,000 direct jobs.
  • Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Fund: The bill provides $139.7 million for the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to remediate environmental contamination, rehabilitate sites for economically productive use, and support jobs in the process. Warner and Kaine spearheaded legislation earlier this year that would release $1 billion from the remaining, unappropriated balance in the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to states to be spent on reclamation projects in communities impacted by abandoned mine lands and the recent decrease in coal mining production. 
  • Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG): CDBG helps communities develop projects that meet unique housing, infrastructure, and economic development needs and supports job creation. The bill provides $3.325 billion for CDBG. The bill rejects the President’s proposals to increase rent for public housing residents and protects critical sources of funding for affordable housing such as the HOME program. Senators Warner and Kaine have strongly opposed President Trump’s efforts to cut funding for affordable housing.
  • BUILD Infrastructure Grants: The bill provides $1 billion for competitive transportation grants through the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) program, formerly known as “TIGER” grants. Virginia has previously used these grants for projects including I-95 Express Lanes, I-564 connector from Norfolk International Terminals at the Port of Virginia, I-64 Delta Frames Bridges in Rockbridge County, the Pulse bus-rapid transit system in Richmond, and Northstar Boulevard in Loudoun County near Dulles.
  • Remote Tower System: The bill provides $9.5 million for the FAA to continue its remote tower systems pilot program at smaller airports. As part of the program, air traffic controllers are able to work remotely, which could help ease capacity and staffing constraints. This would support the Remote Tower Center partnership between Leesburg Executive Airport and Saab Technologies, as well as similar remote tower pilot projects being developed around the country.
  • Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT): The bill fully funds the PILT program, estimated to be around $500 million, in order to help local governments offset losses in property taxes due to non-taxable federal lands within their boundaries. In FY2019, Virginia received roughly $5.8 million from PILT, of which the largest recipients were Augusta, Rockingham, Bath, Alleghany, and Craig Counties.
  • Virginia Tribes: In 2018, Congress passed and the President signed into law the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act of 2017, legislation introduced by Senators Warner and Kaine that granted federal recognition to six Virginia tribes: the Chickahominy, the Eastern Chickahominy, the Upper Mattaponi, the Rappahannock, the Monacan, and the Nansemond. The appropriations bill provides $1.281 million to continue to help Virginia tribes access the federal resources available to them after their successful, decades-long effort to secure federal recognition. It also includes an additional $11.5 million for delivery of health care services for Virginia tribes.
  • Hemp: The bill provides $16.5 million in new funding to implement the Hemp Production Program, which was authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill. Senators Warner and Kaine have been strong supporters of hemp as an agricultural commodity. The Farm Bill included a provision sponsored by both Senators that removed hemp from the list of controlled substances, allowing Virginia farmers to grow and sell the plant as a commodity for use in agriculture, textile, recycling, automotive, furniture, food, nutrition, beverage, paper, personal care, and construction products. The bill also includes $2 million for the FDA to research and develop policies on CBD.

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) expressed his frustration today over repeated delays and inaction by the Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding the implementation of the Ashanti Alert Act, which was signed into law more than nine months ago, after passing through Congress in a bipartisan fashion. In a letter to Attorney General William Barr, Sen. Warner demanded a firm deadline for the national launch of the Ashanti Alert system, and called the DOJ’s inaction and lack of communication “unacceptable.”

“The delayed implementation of this critical public safety program is costing lives,” wrote Sen. Warner. “In our meeting, Ms. Sullivan had shared with me a number of concrete steps she would be taking to speed up implementation, and relayed she understood the importance of getting this alert system up and running in each state. However, in the two months since that meeting, there has been little progress on any of the items we spoke about. As well, the Department has subsequently failed to provide my office with any tangible updates or information in follow up emails.”

“One of my major concerns is that despite my urging, there has been no outreach to relevant officials in the Commonwealth of Virginia, who successfully helped implement a Virginia Ashanti Alert system in only three months. Delaying these key conversations regarding best practices will only slow implementation of this life-saving system,” Sen. Warner continued. “The lack of movement on implementing this critical alert system, and the lack of communication with my office is unacceptable.”

The Ashanti Alert Law is named after Ashanti Billie – a 19-year-old whose body was discovered in North Carolina, 11 days after she was first reported missing in Norfolk, Va. At the time of Ashanti’s abduction, she was too old for an AMBER Alert and too young for a Silver Alert. Once implemented, the Ashanti Alert would notify the public about missing or endangered adults, ages 18-64, and assist law enforcement in the search by way of a national communications network.

In the letter, Sen. Warner cited his numerous unanswered requests for updates and called on the DOJ to provide any further information on Ashanti Alert implementation efforts by October 11, 2019. He also requested a firm deadline for the national launch of the Ashanti Alert system.

Sen. Warner, who secured unanimous passage of this bill through the Senate on December 6, 2018, has been a leader in the fight to implement the Ashanti Alert. In August, he reiterated the need for the alert’s swift implementation, following a meeting with Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Sullivan. He has also previously demanded in-person meetings with the DOJ, requested implementation updates, and urged congressional appropriators to provide full funding for the timely implementation of the Ashanti Alert.

Text of this letter can be found below and a PDF is available here.

 

October 4, 2019

The Honorable William P. Barr

The Attorney General

United States Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, D.C., 20530

Dear Attorney General Barr:

Over nine months ago, President Trump signed the Ashanti Alert Act (P.L.115-401) into law. I write to you for a third time about delayed efforts by the Department of Justice to get this crucial system implemented in a timely manner. This week marks two years since 19-year-old Ashanti Billie was found murdered – 11 days after she was initially reported missing.  Because of Ashanti’s age, she did not qualify for AMBER or Silver Alerts and thus critical resources were not used to locate her whereabouts. This bipartisan bill passed with support from numerous organizations including the National Association of Police Organizations and the National Association to PROTECT Children. The delayed implementation of this critical public safety program is costing lives.    

On July 29th, I met with Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Katherine Sullivan, who is also serving as the Ashanti Alert Coordinator, to express my concern about the delay and talk to her about next steps. I sent her a follow-up letter in early August memorializing our conversation, and agreed upon next steps. In our meeting, Ms. Sullivan had shared with me a number of concrete steps she would be taking to speed up implementation, and relayed she understood the importance of getting this alert system up and running in each state. However, in the two months since that meeting, there has been little progress on any of the items we spoke about. As well, the Department has subsequently failed to provide my office with any tangible updates or information in follow up emails.

One of my major concerns is that despite my urging, there has been no outreach to relevant officials in the Commonwealth of Virginia, who successfully helped implement a Virginia Ashanti Alert system in only three months. Delaying these key conversations regarding best practices will only slow implementation of this life-saving system. Below, for your information is a short timeline of the follow-up my staff has done, and the relevant responses my staff has received:

  • On August 6, 2019, my staff emailed the Department to share contacts with the Virginia State Police who would be happy to talk with the Department about how to best work with states to implement the Ashanti Alert nationwide. My staff also requested an update on a meeting with the CTIA The Wireless Association, and asked if there had been further conversations with the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). Both are topics about which Ms. Sullivan and I spoke.
  • On August 22, 2019, my staff once again asked for updates on the CTIA and COPS meetings, as well as whether the Department had spoken with the Virginia State Police to utilize its expertise. Additionally, we asked for a contact at the Department to share with another state interested in setting up a system similar to the Ashanti Alert.
  • On August 29, 2019, my staffed asked yet again for the above information.
  • On September 10, 2019, more than one month after my meeting with Ms. Sullivan, my staff asked a fourth time for the above items about which Ms. Sullivan and I spoke. We also requested an update on the Ashanti Alert implementation status.
  • On September 24, 2019 and September 30, 2019, my staff requested these answers for a fifth and sixth time. We have since received the Department contacts as well as information that the CTIA meeting was replaced with a meeting with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The lack of movement on implementing this critical alert system, and the lack of communication with my office is unacceptable. Thus, I am asking for a response from the Department regarding next steps. Please respond to my office no later than Thursday, October 11, 2019 with details on the following questions:

  • Are there any further updates on the Ashanti Alert implementation efforts? If so, please provide a detailed update on these efforts.
  • Has the Department contacted relevant Virginia officials to discuss how the Commonwealth successfully implemented an Ashanti Act system? If so, please provide a detailed update on these conversations. If not, please explain the delay.
  • Are there any further updates regarding the Ashanti Act implementation meeting(s) between the Department and the FCC? If so, please provide a detailed update on these meetings.

Finally, I would like a firm deadline for the national launch of the Ashanti Alert system. Further delay of this critical public safety program will only cost lives. Thank you for your time and I look forward to your expeditious response.

Sincerely, 

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to Ashanti Alert Coordinator Katherine Sullivan, reiterating the need for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to get the national communication network swiftly up-and-running. This letter follows a July 29th in-person meeting between Sen. Warner and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Sullivan.

“As I stated during our conversation, I remain strongly committed to monitoring its implementation and ensuring that the network can start saving lives soon. It was heartening to hear that as designated national coordinator, you are committed to swiftly implementing this potentially lifesaving system by working in collaboration with states to ensure that Ashanti Alert systems are established across the country with proper network guidelines,” wrote Sen. Warner.

After DOJ indicated that little progress had been made on the implementation of the federal Ashanti Alert system in March, Sen. Warner demanded an in-person meeting with DOJ officials to discuss the status of implementation efforts. During the meeting, Sen. Warner urged the DOJ to consult with Virginia state and local officials who passed state-wide legislation to create an Ashanti Alert network and successfully implemented it three months after it was signed into law by Governor Ralph Northam.

“Last year, Virginia successfully established its own Ashanti Alert system in only three months. Since then, the Commonwealth has sent out a number of alerts, some of which have helped find missing or endangered adults alive in under 24 hours. As we discussed, I believe that the officials in Virginia could provide valuable guidance to you and other states, so I urge you to seek out their guidance regarding this matter,” continued Sen. Warner.

On December 20th 2018, Sen. Warner successfully secured Senate passage of the Ashanti Alert Act, which was then signed into law later in the month. Ever since, he has continued to pressure the DOJ to work with relevant stakeholders to promptly implement the alert network nationwide to help save lives.

“I was glad to hear that you have already thought about some actionable ideas on implementation, including your suggestion to include an Ashanti Alert workshop in the next national Amber Alert symposium. However, I continue to expect the Department to identify additional avenues and strategies to speed up the implementation process, while consulting with law enforcement agencies, stakeholders, and other relevant entities who played roles during the adoption of the Amber and Silver alerts,” concluded Sen. Warner.

A copy of the letter can be found here or below.

 

Ms. Katherine Sullivan

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, D.C., 20530

Dear Ms. Sullivan:

I appreciated our meeting on July 29, 2019 regarding the implementation status of the Ashanti Alert Act. As I stated during our conversation, I remain strongly committed to monitoring its implementation and ensuring that the network can start saving lives soon. It was heartening to hear that as designated national coordinator, you are committed to swiftly implementing this potentially lifesaving system by working in collaboration with states to ensure that Ashanti Alert systems are established across the country with proper network guidelines.

As I emphasized in our meeting, it has been almost eight months since President Trump signed the bill into law. I have been disappointed that the Department’s efforts thus far have made little progress on the alert system and I must reiterate that delayed implementation will only cost lives. Last year, Virginia successfully established its own Ashanti Alert system in only three months. Since then, the Commonwealth has sent out a number of alerts, some of which have helped find missing or endangered adults alive in under 24 hours. As we discussed, I believe that the officials in Virginia could provide valuable guidance to you and other states, so I urge you to seek out their guidance regarding this matter.

I was glad to hear that you have already thought about some actionable ideas on implementation, including your suggestion to include an Ashanti Alert workshop in the next national Amber Alert symposium. However, I continue to expect the Department to identify additional avenues and strategies to speed up the implementation process, while consulting with law enforcement agencies, stakeholders, and other relevant entities who played roles during the adoption of the Amber and Silver alerts.

I look forward to your timely updates on implementation efforts. Thank you for prioritizing the implementation of the Ashanti Alert Act and fully leveraging this opportunity to transform the lives and safety of Americans.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) requesting an in-person meeting to get the timeline for the full implementation of the Ashanti Alert system, as required by legislation passed by Sen. Warner and signed into law in December of 2018.

In March, Sen. Warner wrote to Attorney General William Barr to request an update on the implementation of the alert system. In response to Sen. Warner’s letter, the DOJ indicated that little progress had been made on the implementation of the federal Ashanti Alert system, with only a program coordinator and internal working group members identified. No timeline for a full implementation was provided. Additionally, in April, Sen. Warner held a press conference with Del. Jay Jones and Ashanti Billie’s family urging the DOJ to move swiftly to implement the Ashanti Alert system.

“I am disheartened that over seven months after being signed into law, I have been unable to get appropriate answers from the Department on the status of implementation, including a briefing from the person who was supposed to be designated as the national coordinator. Thus, I am requesting an in-person meeting this month with key individuals responsible to discuss next steps of the implementation process. At this meeting I would hope to get a detailed timeline of the Department’s plans on the full implementation of the Ashanti Alert communications network,” wrote Sen. Warner.

In the letter, Sen. Warner slammed the DOJ for making little-to-no progress on the Ashanti Alert communication network seven months after it was signed into law.

“President Trump signed into law the Ashanti Alert Act of 2018 (Pub L. 115-401) on December 31, 2018. This law is critical to our nation’s efforts in saving the lives of missing adults. Given the urgency of improving public safety, I am especially frustrated at the Department of Justice’s slow pace of implementation of the law. In April 2018, Virginia passed its own legislation to create an Ashanti Alert network and the first alert was issued in July 2018 – three months after it was signed into law by Governor Northam. While I understand that creating a nationwide alert system is a challenging undertaking, the current lack of progress is concerning and unacceptable. Virginia has led the way in fully implementing this critical alert system in a short period of time and now it is the federal government’s turn to act quickly and efficiently in order to start saving lives on a national level,” continued Sen. Warner.

The Ashanti Alert system is named after Ashanti Billie, the 19-year-old who was abducted in Norfolk, Va. on September 18, 2017. Her body was discovered in North Carolina 11 days after she was first reported missing. Because of Ashanti’s age, she did not meet the criteria for an Amber or Silver Alert – tools utilized by law enforcement that make it easier for the public to assist in locating a missing person. The Ashanti Alert, like the other alert systems, would create a new national communication system to notify the public about missing or endangered adults through radio and television broadcast systems and assist law enforcement in the search.

In today’s letter, Sen. Warner also conveyed his concern that the DOJ has not yet appointed an Ashanti Alert Coordinator – the designee in charge of overseeing federal and state coordination of the system. In his letter, Sen. Warner asks whether a designated national coordinator has been appointed and if not, what is causing the delay.

A copy of the letter can be found here or below.

 

The Honorable William Barr 

Attorney General

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, D.C., 20530

Dear Attorney General Barr:

I write yet again to request an update from the Department of Justice regarding the status of the implementation of the Ashanti Alert Act. I am disheartened that over seven months after being signed into law, I have been unable to get appropriate answers from the Department on the status of implementation, including a briefing from the person who was supposed to be designated as the national coordinator.

Thus, I am requesting an in-person meeting this month with key individuals responsible to discuss next steps of the implementation process. At this meeting I would hope to get a detailed timeline of the Department’s plans on the full implementation of the Ashanti Alert communications network.

President Trump signed into law the Ashanti Alert Act of 2018 (Pub L. 115-401) on December 31, 2018. This law is critical to our nation’s efforts in saving the lives of missing adults. Given the urgency of improving public safety, I am especially frustrated at the Department of Justice’s slow pace of implementation of the law. In April 2018, Virginia passed its own legislation to create an Ashanti Alert network and the first alert was issued in July 2018 – three months after it was signed into law by Governor Northam. While I understand that creating a nationwide alert system is a challenging undertaking, the current lack of progress is concerning and unacceptable. Virginia has led the way in fully implementing this critical alert system in a short period of time and now it is the federal government’s turn to act quickly and efficiently in order to start saving lives on a national level.

The law requires the Attorney General to appoint a national coordinator for Ashanti Alerts. Called the Ashanti Alert Coordinator, he or she plays a pivotal role in the success of the alert network. Among other responsibilities, the Coordinator will work with state authorities and federal agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission, on how to implement the program into existing alert systems and what protocols to use. However, according to conversations with staff from the Department of Justice, there is currently not an Ashanti Alert Coordinator appointed. Can you confirm whether you have designated a national coordinator to lead the implementation effort? If not, can you explain what has been causing the delay?

I am eager to receive an update from either the appointed Ashanti Alert Coordinator or senior officials at the Department of Justice who are overseeing the implementation efforts. Please respond with a plan and a meeting date for no later than August 2nd, 2019. If your staff have further questions or there is more I can do to help move implementation forward, please contact Elizabeth Falcone in my office at elizabeth_falcone@warner.senate.gov.

Sincerely,

###